August 18, 2021

Hello again! It’s been a whirlwind of a summer in Seattle. I’ve been spending as much time in the mountains as possible, baking some fancy pies and, honestly, trying to quell existential dread over the combination pandemic + climate crisis.

I’m excited to get back to reporting on student journalism this semester. I’m also looking for students and recent graduates to guest write for The Lead. No one knows student journalism better than student journalists, and I want to hear how you’ve solved problems, innovated or tackled complex subjects at your student publication.

All students will be paid for their writing, thanks to The Lead’s partnership with Poynter. I’m especially interested right now in pitches on these topics:

  • Things I wish I learned in journalism school: What have you had to figure out on your own that you want other students to know? What should journalism schools be teaching that they’re not? (e.g. negotiation, freelancing, nontraditional career paths)
  • Editing + managing: How can students entering editor roles set themselves up for success? How have you edited and organized high-stakes topics/projects? What types of training have worked (or haven’t) for your newsroom?
  • Changing ethics of student journalism: What should the journalism industry be doing differently? How has your student publication approached rules around social media and protesting? How are you codifying ethical policies?

Read more and submit pitches here.

Building a relationship with a mentor is a two-way street. Here’s how to approach it with intention and respect

I’ve never asked someone to be my mentor. But when I trace my path to my current job at The Seattle Times, there are clear guides who’ve helped me along the way: professors, older students, former bosses, people I’ve met at conferences and those I follow on Twitter.

When other students or early-career journalists talk about their mentors, you might feel like you’re on the outside looking in. Here’s the secret: You don’t have to have a formal relationship complete with scheduled meetings. You don’t have to have just one mentor (in fact, you should strive for several). You don’t even have to think of them as your mentor!

For the first in a series I’m calling “Things I wish I’d learned in journalism school,” I talked about mentorship with Emma Carew Grovum. She runs Kimbap Media, a journalism consultancy that helps newsrooms solve problems at the intersection of audience, technology and inclusion. She mentors through Journalism Mentors and Digital Women Leaders, and co-writes a column called Sincerely, Leaders of Color for OpenNews.

Carew Grovum discussed the best way to build ongoing mentoring relationships and the difference between a mentor and a sponsor.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Tell me about your own experience with mentorship in journalism. What relationships helped you get started in the field?

I was an early member of the Asian American Journalists Association as a student. I had a scholarship from AAJA, so I was invited to a dinner with the local board. That group of individuals really helped me get through college and get my first internships, and they still continue to be my mentors to this day.

That was just one example of how I found a mentor, but there are lots of ways: your professors, a speaker your professor brings in, someone you met during an internship or career fair. I’ve benefited from structured formal mentorship and also more informal mentorship.

How do you suggest students and early-career journalists look for someone who can mentor them? 

Having a specific question is always my piece of advice for students. I get a lot of requests from students who just want to “pick my brain,” or don’t have a clear ask, or it’s not clear why they’re asking me specifically. Twitter is a helpful way to find mentors and mentees. Facebook groups or journalism Slack groups like News Nerdery or Journalists of Color are all places where informal mentorship takes place.

Mentorship is really any conversation where one person is advised and helped by the other person. It can be intimidating to think of it as this formal relationship with a contract and meetings — which it can be — but there are so many shades of grey in mentoring. It can be a great conversation between one person and another and they may never speak again. “Do you want to be my mentor?” is a very aggressive question for someone you’ve just met.

You mentor with Journalism Mentors and Digital Women Leaders. What helps make a good conversation when people reach out to you through those platforms? 

Those conversations are most successful when someone has something specific I can personally help with, and they’ve obviously researched what I do and my path. I moved from newsroom to product, so I get lots of requests from people who want to move from editorial to product. I’m almost always happy to have that conversation with people.

Mentorship isn’t transactional; you get to feel good about talking to somebody else and having a cool conversation. Sharing knowledge is a good thing. Helping journalists from underrepresented backgrounds is a good thing in an industry that’s full of unwritten rules and hidden policies. It’s important for them to have mentorship to show them the rules of the room.

What common mistakes do you see students make when seeking mentorship?

I see students have a misalignment or misunderstanding of what a mentor can do for them. A mentor is meant to help you level up and be your best self; they’re not necessarily going to help you get your next job. If you’re looking for someone who’s going to advocate on your behalf and help you build new relationships, that’s a sponsor.

A mentor might bounce around some ideas ahead of a difficult conversation with your boss, or they might read over a cover letter. They may make introductions or forward your resume, but they don’t have to. Feeling out the bandwidth of this person and how invested they are in your journey comes with maturity and self-awareness.

How should students turn a one-time conversation into an ongoing relationship?

Just ask! Say, “Hey, I’d love to keep in touch and enjoyed our conversation on XYZ. Do you have the bandwidth to meet with me again? Can I come back to you for help now that you know what my goals are?”

Students should go into the relationship with a goal they’re trying to achieve, like growing their network so they can get an internship, or building their multimedia skills. Have something you’re trying to do that’s not just gaining employment.

Is there anything else students should consider?

Thinking about mentorship as a board of directors can be really helpful. You’ll have some mentors who help you with certain things. I had one mentor in college that I called every time I had to dress myself for a professional event. But for others in my life, that would’ve been inappropriate to ask. Know each relationship and know who to call when so you’re not just screaming, “Help, help, help!”

And if you’re not willing to do the hard work, don’t ask for a mentor. It’s a two-way street and a relationship. You need to be invested in that relationship.

One story worth reading

Student journalists at historically Black colleges and universities shouldered a unique burden in the 2020-21 school year, covering protests, a pandemic and a contentious election. Through it all, they still produced exceptional work, Jaden Edison writes for Poynter.

Aiyana Ishmael, former editor-in-chief of Florida A&M University’s student-run Journey magazine, told Edison, “I’m a journalist, but I’m a black woman first. I can’t ever be a journalist first because the intersections of my identity are just larger than my career.”

Opportunities and trainings

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Taylor Blatchford is a journalist at The Seattle Times who independently writes The Lead, a newsletter for student journalists. She can be reached at…
Taylor Blatchford

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